Imagine coming down untouched slopes, your skis sliding along powder-soft snow, and the tracks in the snow are left behind by you and you alone. You are the first human contact that the snow experiences. It does sound like a dream, doesn’t it? Perhaps you are also drawn to the idea of ungroomed terrains for your skiing adventure because you believe that there will be fewer people enjoying the terrains that you are so eagerly anticipating. And while that may be true for the most part, don’t be surprised if there are a lot of people who are also intrigued by off-piste skiing.
What Is Off-Piste Skiing?
At a ski resort or on a hillside or mountainside that has been designed and designated to accommodate skiers, the slopes have been groomed and optimized to enhance the skiing experience. This means that there may be moguls that have formed over time by skiers or that have been created by snowcats; if there is not enough snow on the ground, snow will be added; and there will be assistance provided in the form of other experienced skiers, instructors, and people having fun and just enjoying the slopes.
Basically, at ski resorts, the space has been designed to accommodate skiers and snowboarders, and anyone else who wants to enjoy the slopes. However, sometimes people want to enjoy what nature has to offer. In these cases, people tend to venture off the beaten path and they prefer to ski down trails and terrains that aren’t groomed in any way.
Off-piste skiing terrains allow the skier to encounter any variety of conditions and terrains. It isn’t all smooth sailing, to say the least. But it is a great test of skill and precision and is enjoyed by a large number of experienced skiers.
Many people use the word backcountry skiing instead of off-piste, but essentially, these are the areas outside of a skiing resort. If you lived on a snowy hillside and went skiing on your property, you would be skiing off-piste.
What Is Off-Piste Skiing Like?
When you are backcountry or off-piste skiing, you may encounter a variety of conditions both in terms of the terrain you are skiing on, and the weather conditions you experience. In many cases, if weather conditions aren’t favorable at a resort and an extreme snowstorm is rolling in, the resort may suspend skiing activities temporarily. However, in off-piste skiing, you can ski even when it is snowing.
The terrain you may encounter in off-piste skiing also varies greatly because it is ungroomed. But when you pursue off-piste skiing, this is exactly what you are looking for. You can experience anything from deep, soft snow to big bumps and mounds, and steep slopes that require both nerve and skill.
Is Off-Piste Skiing Safe?
This concern is only fair and extremely valid when you are backcountry skiing. After all, the joys of unchartered lands need to come with the necessary precautions of being the first person to pursue them. Because all of the snow and terrain off-piste are untouched, there could be holes and an endless variety of nature’s boobytraps that need to be looked out for.
For the most part, the greatest danger that could be found off-piste are avalanches. Now, while avalanches aren’t very common in certain areas, we all know that the “snowball” effect has garnered popularity for a reason. The last thing you want is to be caught unprepared in a situation, or an avalanche, that requires extreme preparation.
Skiing off-piste and the rough terrain has been known to cause some injuries, not the least of which is frostbite. However, it is for that reason that preparation is always key. There are three things that you can do to ensure your off-piste ski experience is not only enjoyable but also safe.
- Don’t go off-piste skiing alone. Whether you are experienced or a beginner, it is always a good idea to go backcountry skiing in a group. If there happens to be an incident where someone gets stuck or gets hurt, they aren’t stranded on a snowy and cold mountainside by themselves. It is always good to have people with you and to let others know exactly where you are at any given point, especially when you are navigating uncertain terrains.
- Be consistently aware of your surroundings at all times. Whether there is wildlife and bears in the area or whether there is a storm warning, it is always recommended to be aware and alert of your surroundings. This will keep you aware of avalanches and other environmental and surrounding concerns that may help you avoid danger altogether.
- Always have a plan. Whether you are planning your gear and equipment down to a tee, or whether you are planning ways of getting out of sticky situations, it is always a good idea to have a plan that will help you in a time of need.
How To Prepare For Off-Piste Skiing?
While most of the gear and equipment you will need for off-piste skiing is pretty much the same as if you were going skiing at a resort, there are some extra accommodations that you would need to make when you are heading out to the backcountry. The first thing you would need to do is keep an eye on any weather warnings and dress accordingly. Whether it is a colder-than-normal day, and you need to layer up a bit more, or whether the sun is going to be blazing down and you need to wear the appropriate goggles, dressing appropriately will make your entire experience that much more enjoyable.
Next, as previously mentioned, avalanches are a very real concern when you are off-piste skiing. This means that at the very least, you would need to have a level one American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education certificate so that you know how to stay safe if you find yourself caught in an avalanche.
You would also need to have avalanche safety gear and you would need to know how to use it.
Is Off-Piste Skiing Safe For Beginners?
Off-piste skiing means that you are the one who is going to be setting the tone and creating tracks in the untouched snow. In so doing, it has often been thought that even the most experienced skiers find it hard to navigate the ungroomed terrain. But for the most part, off-piste skiing is there for all to enjoy, whether you are experienced on the slopes or not.
The only thing that you should know is that off-piste skiing is not like anything you are aware of. Instead, it is quite literally unchartered ground. If you go into it with the appropriate preparations and if you are sure to head out with more than one person, you may find your feet a lot faster and get to enjoy the backcountry even faster.
So, while there is no prerequired skill level that you need to have before hitting the off-piste slopes, making sure that you prepare in the correct way and for any circumstances whether you are skilled or experienced, is the basis for having fun.
As with all skiing, off-piste is all about enjoying the slopes, but one of the unique added features that come with off-piste skiing is the unparalleled beauty of untouched snow. While it does take planning and preparation, the thing you should not forget when you head out to the backcountry is to always enjoy the beauty of untouched snow and the wonderful, snow-white landscapes. After all, what is off-piste skiing if not a sport with a view?